The super Nova swimming star and the teenagers with Tokyo 2020 vision

Media playback is not supported on this device

'Olympic talk makes me nervous' - Colbert

English, maths, geography, four hours of swimming training... Tokyo 2020?

It's not a standard daily thought process for a 15-year-old.

But for Freya Colbert and a clutch of her contemporaries, fretting about GCSEs or A-levels while having a chance of making next year's Olympic Games in Japan is a reality.

"It would be incredible," the Grantham teenager told BBC Sport, on the back of a summer where she won five junior international medals. "But there are some amazing swimmers ahead of me who are much more experienced so it's not really my main aim.

"Making an Olympics is such a long way off. If I think about it I get nervous, but I am taking 11 GCSEs - and I have my mocks coming up - so I can't really get ahead of myself.

"I just have to focus on my training and keep improving and see what happens."

Colbert, who swims for Nova Centurion in Nottingham, is one of six outstanding English teenagers who have been included in British Swimming's Podium Potential squad for the first time.

The 31-strong group sits below the Podium squad - the 17 elite British swimmers featuring Adam Peaty, Molly Renshaw and co.

"It was such a shock to be included," the Kesteven & Grantham Girls' School pupil added.

"It was surprising when I got the email saying I was in consideration, so to actually be in the squad was even more of a shock."

Colbert and the other youngest swimmers in the Podium Potential squad have a "realistic chance" of sneaking into the Tokyo thinking, according to Grant Robins, head of talent for Swim England. But he admits such swift success would be a bonus.

Kayla van der Merwe of Winchester City Penguins and Leicester Sharks swimmer Michaella Glenister are 17. Bromley's Tamryn van Selm and Ed Mildred of Northampton Swimming club are 16, while Derventio Excel's Jacob Whittle and Colbert are both 15.

England's present and future: (top left-right) Michaella Glenister, Ed Mildred, Tamryn Van Selm and (bottom left-right) Jacob Whittle, Kayla van der Merwe, Freya Colbert
England's present and future: (top left-right) Glenister, Mildred, Van Selm and (bottom left-right) Whittle, Van der Merwe, Colbert

"Freya, Jacob, Ed - they are all punching above their weight at this moment," Robins explained.

"So the decision was made - and quite rightly - to give these guys, and some others, a shot.

"Ed is at one minute 58 seconds for 200m fly. There are only a couple of people in the country going 1.56. And the age and stage he's at he could potentially find a couple of seconds over the next few months."

For Colbert there is no pressure. But it is a glorious prize being dangled in front of her.

Swimming certainly runs in the family. Freya got into the sport through older sister Molly, 18, who has been a regular at age group nationals throughout her teen years. Younger sister Iona, 14, won gold in her age group in 100m backstroke at the British Summer Championships in July.

Freya has been on Swim England's talent pathway for a number of years but her inclusion on the Podium programme - along with its associated performances services and funding - is a big boost.

She will also be attending a Japanese Development Camp in Mount Fuji in December, before Olympic trials at the British Championships in London next March.

But while the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022 and the 2024 Olympics in Paris are a more likely first senior international destination for the six teenage Podium Potential first-timers, their rankings mean a trip to the Far East next summer cannot be ruled out.

Colbert is sixth in Britain in the 400m individual medley with a time of 4:43.54 and Glenister is third on the list, with a time of 4:39.35.

Media playback is not supported on this device

Michaella Glenister growing in confidence as Olympic Games loom

One of Colbert's good friends, Scotland's Katie Shanahan, also 15 and Britain's best performer in the European Youth Olympic Festival [EYOF] with three gold and three silver medals, is another in the Podium squad.

The pair are first and second on the all-time British rankings for 15-year-olds in 400m individual medley, with Shanahan ahead of her GB team-mate by a place in the current year-on-year rankings by just 0.18 seconds.

Whittle is 14th in Britain in the 100m freestyle with a time set when he was still 14. He is just over two seconds slower than the number one, Duncan Scott.

"All of those youngsters wouldn't traditionally be put on to Podium Potential," Robins added.

"But some of the Tokyo team will be relatively old and they're going to do one of two things, they'll either hang on until Birmingham or they'll quit.

"It would be unwise of us if we didn't promote the younger end."

Colbert's selection as one of 48 swimmers on the British World Class Programme for the 2019-20 season capped an incredible few months.

She is a standout swimmer in medley events as well as across the board from 100m to 800m freestyle.

That was evident as she won five international silver medals, one at the European Junior Championships in Kazan, Russia, and four at EYOF in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Freya Colbert
Freya Colbert says swimming multiple events in freestyle and medley, rather than concentrating on one event, helps ease the pressure

"It was an incredible feeling wearing my GB kit," Colbert said.

"Both events were brilliant but being at the multi-sport event at EYOF was an even better experience. It was such an honour wearing the Olympic rings.

"It was a smaller swimming team so it was fun being with friends - and being around everyone from all the other sports like judo and gymnastics was great."

Nova director of swimming Nathan Hilton, who has been coaching Colbert for two years, following her move from local club Grantham, said her "amazing summer" was fully deserved.

"There aren't many people who operate at that level," he told BBC Sport.

"But it's not surprising when you see what she does on a day-to-day basis and the routine and overall lifestyle she has to lead to deliver that."

'I love racing'

Colbert trains nine times a week, with almost 18 hours of pool time, plus land training and then competitions on top of that. The commitment is all-encompassing.

Early mornings, late nights and double sessions are all part of a relentless, brutal regime. Her rise to international swimmer means even more travelling, so more time away from home and extra pressure on school work. But she is embracing the challenge.

"Training can be hard and tough when it's freezing cold and you're tired," Colbert explained.

"But it's what I do and you just have to get on with it because I love racing and love doing well. That gives me the focus. My school are very supportive and it's lucky I am quite an organised person."

Hilton described Colbert as a "very coachable extrovert".

Freya Colbert in action at the British Swimming Championships in April 2019
Colbert won five junior international medals this summer

"Freya is just a sponge," he added. "Anything that she can use that she thinks will help her get better she will do. That is an ability, or a gift - whatever you want to call it - in itself.

"If you work with her technically and say to her 'I want you to do this', it's done and I haven't got to say it to her again. When I have coached other athletes at Freya's level they do similar things; they learn and develop quicker than their peers, which is why they end up in front.

"In term of Freya's performance level at this moment, if you look at the summer with the 400m individual medley (at Euro Juniors), she is the sixth-ranked British senior anyway so she is already swimming at a senior level.

"It's the same with the 800m and 200m freestyle; she is already in the senior rankings."

But he said keeping achievements in context is vital.

"The key thing is putting it in perspective," he added.

"She is doing fantastically well, going 4:43 for the 400m individual medley, which is great. But if you want to be the best in the world that is 4:26 - and that's a big jump to where she is potentially going to be in five or six years' time.

"We want to celebrate success and she has had an absolutely amazing summer, but we have to say, 'we have done that now, and we move on'.

"It's about believing in what you are doing. And she does."

Slipstreaming Olympians

Adam Peaty celebrates Olympic gold
Adam Peaty savours the feeling of becoming an Olympic champion

Whatever the short and longer-term future holds for Colbert and her peers, Swim England and Robins have been busy trying to ensure there is a better structure in place to help people stay on track and strike the balance between studies and top-level swimming.

Nova was one of five Performance Centres with links to universities that was established just over a year ago. The club is linked with the University of Nottingham, which has state-of-the-art facilities and an environment geared towards helping swimmers.

Centres at High Wycombe, Leeds, Guildford, Manchester and Nottingham have been joined by a sixth in Sheffield, with City of Sheffield Swim Squad, Sheffield Hallam University and University of Sheffield also now working in partnership.

Slipstreaming Olympians and aspiring to follow the very best while studying is a simple but devilishly effective notion.

"A lot of people go to Stirling because they've got a Duncan Scott and they think, 'if Duncan Scott goes here, it must be good for me'," Robins said.

"If each one of the centres had a golden nugget - which Freya Colbert might be for Nova at Nottingham in the future - it helps."

Top Stories